Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children
Anne Arundel County Court Appointed Special Advocates, Inc. (AACCASA) is a private, non-profit organization whose mission is to advocate for and support abused and neglected children who are involved in juvenile court proceedings to ensure their right to safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. Specially trained volunteers known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA’s) represent the best interests of these vulnerable children within the child welfare and legal systems. Our philosophy is that the cycle of child abuse will be broken as a result of children living in stable, nurturing home environments, where they can thrive, overcome the traumatic effects of their childhood and grow to reach their full potential.
AACCASA is dedicated to making a positive, long-term impact on the lives and futures of the most vulnerable members of our community—children who have been abused and neglected by their caregivers. Our CASA volunteers provide a voice in court for innocent children, aid judges in making the best decisions on their behalf and give these children hope for their futures like Jenny*, one of our CASA children:
“Jenny was a bright and friendly child with a warm, beautiful smile. At the time she was placed in foster care, Jenny looked older than her 11 years. Jenny’s mother was addicted to crack cocaine, and had been trading Jenny for crack from her drug dealer. This sexual exploitation began when Jenny was 9 years old.
Jenny’s foster home was far out in the country, away from Jenny’s family, friends, and previous schoolmates. Jenny was sad, scared and lonely in the foster home. She desperately wanted to live with her aunt, who was willing to take her; however she knew she couldn’t get by without financial help and counseling support for both of them.
Her CASA volunteer supported Jenny emotionally; she also advocated for counseling services, financial assistance and transportation. She found someone who was able to donate a used car to the family. Jenny was placed with her aunt and thrived in her care.
Jenny is now 18. She has grown into a sensible, intelligent, young woman. She wants a life different from her mother’s and is making the right decisions to turn that into reality”.
It was because of Jenny’s CASA that she received the services she needed and was able to live safely with her aunt.
More than 11,000 children in Maryland enter the court system each year as a result of being abused or neglected by a parent or caregiver. Last year in Anne Arundel County, over 550 children were known to be victims of abuse and neglect—the fourth highest number in the state. Nearly 250 of these children suffered such serious harm that they were removed from their homes and today are living in foster care.
In the overloaded world of the child welfare system, CASA steps in where the system stops short. Each of our community volunteers is appointed by a judge as a “Friend of the Court” to stand for one child in court and to advocate for that child’s best interests until that child’s case closes. Volunteer advocates are committed to ensuring that these vulnerable children receive the services they need and have the opportunity to live in safe, permanent homes. The court looks to the CASA volunteer to conduct an objective review and develop a comprehensive understanding of the child and the family’s situation. The CASA writes a report with recommendations to the court to enable the judge to make the best decisions on behalf of the child.
Over the past eight years, AACCASA has grown steadily, meeting the goals it has set and helping over 246 children involved in the juvenile court system. During the first half of fiscal year 2006, 54 child advocates reached 85 of the approximate 250 children in the child welfare system in this County.
In keeping with the National CASA Association’s objectives, our program has an obligation to provide volunteer child advocates for all children who need a CASA volunteer.
Since AACCASA can serve only a portion of the children in the system, judges are appointing our volunteer advocates to the most complicated cases, where children have been determined to have the most critical, unmet needs. We always have children whom we do not have the capacity to serve waiting for a CASA volunteer. These children cannot afford to wait. We hope you will join with CASA to serve the most vulnerable children in our County. As Sir Wilfred Grinfell has said, “The service we render to others is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth”.
* (Name and situation have been changed to protect the confidentiality of this individual).